Roman Polak is back for another year with the Leafs. Didn’t take long for the fan base to turn on management, with some coaxing along from the mainstream media. It’s amazing how talk of how we have “the smartest management group in the NHL” turns to “Oh my god they’re so dumb!” based on the signing of two role players.
When it comes to facts, the Leafs management team has assembled a good, young, and skilled core of prospects and young defencemen. Nikita Zaitsev has not played on a North American ice surface for any sustained amount of time in his career. Polak – due to a lack of foot speed – has HAD to play positional hockey throughout his career, as a right-handed defender. If Polak can help Zaitsev adjust his positioning to fit the North American surface, Zaitsev will be able to pull of pinches that Polak regularly misses due to that aforementioned speed. Add to that playing every game in the Sharks cup run, and he’ll prove to be a good source of experience even for guys like Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner.
Polak returning also creates some internal competition in the bottom 4, which Babcock loves. If there’s one thing Toronto needs during the rebuild, its competition. The Oilers, for example, had no competition for spots, and granted young players big contracts before they did anything of note. If even half of those players had to WORK their way into the lineup, Edmonton may be a powerhouse right now instead of persistent bumblers.
In short order, the Leafs have reacquired a defenceman who A) loves to get rough and B) helps with total team development. Polak is, in essence, a big bruiser who will stick up for teammates and gives opposing players something to think of before taking a run at someone. As you may or may not recall, Andreas Johnson got his block knocked off in the AHL playoffs, and a distinct lack of players of Polak’s ilk was noticeable when the Marlies had no one but Rich Clune who could answer back.
Polak is on a 1 year deal, and while the amount has has yet to be disclosed, it’s not an anchor contract, and should be easy to flip at the deadline if we are in a similar position as this past season. Should one of the youngsters prove more deserving of his roster spot, room will be made, one way or another. That being said, role players are important, and every team has them. Like I mentioned in my article yesterday, not every player on a roster is a 40+ point-getter, and Polak is a good penalty killer and can clear the front of the net effectively, which is something every team needs. He can get exposed by speed, and that was evident in the Pittsburgh series, but on the flip side, every team got exposed by the Penguins.
As a final point, the management team isn’t stupid. Not everything needs to be an analytical Grand Slam to be considered, and you can’t ice an NHL team with no veteran leadership on the back-end. The Leafs have exactly 1 veteran defenceman on each side of he ice in Hunwick and Polak now, and that’s not a bad thing. Welcome back Roman, at the very least, I’m glad you’re here.